ADEN, Yemen — After months of fighting, loyalist forces have ousted Houthi rebels from Yemen’s southern city of Aden. The victory has reopened Aden’s ports for aid ships carrying food, medicine and fuel.
On July 21, an aid ship with the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) was the first to dock in Aden since March. The organization has called the ship’s arrival a “major breakthrough” for aid delivery in Yemen.
Aden’s ports are key passages for foreign aid shipments into war-torn Yemen. For months, fierce conflict between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s forces prevented aid ships from docking in the port area.
Muhannad Hadi, WFP regional director for the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, says that being able to dock in Aden will significantly speed up aid delivery to civilians in southern Yemen.
Last September, the Houthi rebels overtook Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, prompting the outbreak of civil war. After advancing southward, the Houthis took control of Aden in early April, forcing aid organizations like the WFP to use dangerous roads to reach civilians in need.
With the support of Saudi-led coalition air strikes, pro-Hadi forces recaptured the port city on July 17. The loyalist fighters have since taken back other neighborhoods in the surrounding region.
Nearly 4,000 people have died in Yemen’s ongoing conflict. A spokesperson for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says, “The majority of the casualties are reported to have been caused by air strikes, but civilians are also regularly being injured and killed by mortar fire and in street fighting,”
Since April, a Saudi-led coalition has maintained a naval blockade around Yemen in an attempt to prevent weapons and other resources from reaching Houthi fighters. Each ship must be fully inspected before it can dock, a lengthy process that has led to extreme shortages of food and fuel.
The WFP’s ship, MV Han Zhi, arrived off the coast of Aden on June 26 carrying enough food to feed 180,000 people for a month. However, for security purposes, the ship had to wait more than three weeks before it could berth.
Two additional WFP ships have since docked in Aden’s oil port of Al-Buraiqa. In recent days, the WFP and its partners have begun to distribute aid to some 340,000 people in the worst-affected areas in Aden. The two-month food rations include wheat flour, pulses and cooking oil. The WFP says that more ships carrying food and fuel are “on stand-by” near the port.
Oxfam reports that an estimated six million people in Yemen are nearing starvation, with an additional seven million facing food insecurity.
In addition to the WFP, other organizations, including Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), were able to receive replacement supplies. Alkhader Leswar, director of Aden’s health department, says that while the shipment brought much-needed aid to Aden’s hospitals, more must be done to help the injured. He says the hospitals currently have more than 9,400 wounded patients.
The aid breakthrough is only the beginning of the humanitarian community’s long battle in Yemen. With supplies still scarce and many regions too dangerous to reach, aid groups are struggling to serve the more than 80 percent of the population desperately in need of assistance.
“We are challenging the odds to reach tens of thousands of people who would go hungry without food assistance,” says WFP’s Hadi.
“We are working to overcome insecurity, checkpoints and many other hurdles in Yemen to reach desperate families unable to feed their children,”
Sources: IRIN News, Reuters, UN News, UN News 2, NPR, Al Jazeera